Morning from a grumpy Gooner in a corner of London Suburbia. I’m grumpy because my team failed to deliver a performance against a newly promoted and stubborn – but ultimately limited – Leicester City team at the KP Stadium yesterday afternoon.
These are the teams that last season we simply dealt with, yet already the warning signs are here for a different season to last when it comes to the teams lower down the division. And that worries me. It worries me because unless we address our woeful form against the big boys, the only way we’ll get close to the top four this season (notice how I’m not even talking about winning the league), is by picking up a shed load of points against teams from sixth downwards.
We just aren’t clicking at all. That is more frustrating than the result. Result-wise, it’s not the end of the world and at this early stage of the season the league means about as much as a promise of humbleness from Jose Mourinho. But my concern lies with some of the initial signs from some of our big players. Specifically our midfield.
Yesterday’s 1-1 draw and the profligacy in front of goal may be labelled at the raw and clearly not ready Sanogo (I’ll come to that in a bit), but as a couple of people pointed out last night (I think Mean Lean over at Arsenal Vision said it first on my Timeline), it’s very difficult to pin it all on the front men when it was obvious that our midfield wasn’t right. I though Cazorla, Ramsey and Özil all had pretty poor games if I’m honest. Santi produced a lovely chip to set up Sanogo whose shot deflected into the path of Sanchez for his second goal in two games, but other than that he was way off. Passes were astray for all three players, ball retention left a lot to be desired of, the drive and determination of last season just didn’t seem to be there.
I don’t know why that is. This isn’t a Spuds/Liverpoolesque root and branch overhaul of the squad – the team that lined up we’re all ever-present last season barring Debuchy and Sanchez – so I don’t know why we haven’t found our rhythm in any of the games we’ve played in yet (Community Shield aside). That’s five games folks. Everyone has off days, we’re all only human, but every time we seem to take to the pitch it’s an off day at the moment it seems.
I did wonder if the new arrivals would take time to ‘bed in’ and we’d have a few quiet games, but it seems Chambers, Debuchy and Alexis are the ones that are actually performing quite well. Sanchez popped up on the left and right yesterday and looked to run at defenders wherever possible. He provided a creative attacking outlet and is getting better all of the time. But Özil was misplacing passes, looked out of sorts and never really threatened that killer pass beyond the eight man Leicester defence.
Perhaps there are mitigating circumstances. Crystal Palace, Besiktas, Everton and Leicester all got men behind the ball. That made it difficult for us to get behind them and yesterday, without a really quality target man, you could see we weren’t willing to whip balls in behind the defence for out wide. There just wasn’t the variation. We got the ball to the edge of the Leicester box and then tried to thread the most intricate balls in behind a well drilled defence that we could.
Are injuries playing their part? Perhaps. The head injury Koscienly picked up clearly affected him in the early stages of the game, as he was culpable for the equaliser that Ulloa got and came off shortly afterwards. It was a shocking bit of defending for the goal, but a fully-fit Kos probably would have nodded that one away.
Last season injuries decimating the team cost us around March time and we fell away from title chasers to fourth place trophy chasers. I can’t help but think that this season we are in for more of the same, only the injuries are happening now, so our title challenge may just evaporate earlier in the season than later.
I’m sorry if I seem despondent at the moment folks, but it’s just that so much early promise after a good summer of business and the Community Shield win had me really thinking we could have a good to at the oil whores this season. But when you look at the two Petro-dollar teams and see how strong their squads are, then you look at how we’re affected when we miss a few key players, it just feels like a mountain that is too steep for this Arsenal team to climb.
Who knows, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m just being a little melodramatic after a few flat performances. But historically, the seasons that have been good ones at Arsenal have been because we’ve started strong and raced to early leads by picking up a lot of points quickly. The ones where we’ve scrapped for fourth all season are where we’ve stuttered at the start and never even got close to the top two. I fear the latter scenario.
I don’t really even want to touch on the last day of the transfer window. For some, it’s the last bastion of hope that our frailties will be addressed, but for me I think there is too much work needed for the squad to be capable of picking up the challenge of a league title and running with it. A back up centre half may be easier to secure if you go to a smaller club, but picking up a defensive midfielder as well? I’m just not sure we have the ability to close two high-profile deals on the final day.
But that isn’t the most frustrating thing of all. The lack of a World Class striker will be painfully evident for us for the first half of the season I fear. Perhaps I’m being unkind to Arsène, because he made the excellent acquisition of Alexis and he may just turn out to be that superstar up top we’re looking for, but he is going to take time and as was shown yesterday, there is literally no other acceptable option when Giroud is out for a prolonged period of time. Sanogo is just not good enough I’m afraid. Not yet, anyway, and he showed that on numerous occasions yesterday. He’s a young player, he’s been thrust into the limelight and he’s having to accept his role as fall guy because Arsène is his chosen ‘project’. Well Arsène, if you don’t sign anybody by 11pm tonight, I pray your ‘project’ has some sort of miraculous change of fortune, because if he carries on like yesterday, I fear it could break him mentally. Think about how Diego Forlan got on at United when he took an age to score. It smashed him mentally and he only recovered when he went back to Spain and started banging in goals again. None of us want to see that for Sanogo, but that’s what I fear.
Right now, I have no expectations for today and if the performances continue like they have done over the coming weeks, I have no expectations for this season. Other than the standard fight for fourth place. Obviously.
See you tomorrow.